An Uptick in Elder Poverty: A Blip, or a Sign of Things to Come?
Last week, the U.S. Census Bureau released data on the financial status of older Americans. This is the first year they have publicly released data on the well-being of American seniors, including income and assets. As the Census Bureau reported, “The numbers show that older households are now more affluent than younger households.” (1)
According to the Census data, older American adults had a disposable income of $71,099 in 1999, and $84,738 in 2013. They had a greater disposable income than those in 25 years and older in 2000 ($65,699), and a greater number of assets. These numbers are much larger than the numbers of people in the same age range who were poor in 1980 ($18,971).
What does this reveal about the well-being of older Americans? If the elderly have had such a significant increase in their personal well-being over the last several decades, why have more old people become poor?
One reason is that we live in a country with a weak safety net. According to the Social Security Administration, in 2012 elderly Americans had an average monthly income of $1,908 a month, about $5 a day. (2) This is about $20 a day, or $40 a week, less than the poverty threshold for a family of four of $24,927.
The median household income for seniors in 2012 was $48,500, which is about $80 a month, or $160 a week, less than the poverty threshold for a family of four, which was $55,550.
Social Security, which has been around for about half a century, is not an available safety net in today’s economy. According to the Social Security Administration, this is the first year they have publicly released data on the well-being of Americans.
The Census Bureau data show that older Americans lost more net worth than younger Americans in the last four years. “Among people who were 65 or older in 2013, the median net worth was negative — a negative $16,300, compared with a median net worth of negative $15,600 among those in the 25-64 age group.”
In the 2000, more Americans lost net worth